Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I’m back there again. I’m 7 years old and standing at the side of the playground looking in as everyone plays on. I know I want them to notice me, I know I don’t belong. No one notices me. No one feels my pain.
Throughout my entire life I have felt different. I’ve never had the sense of belonging that others take for granted. I knew my mother and grandmother loved me, although I didn’t feel that they liked me that often. I certainly didn’t feel loved by other family members. I felt I was an embarrassment to them and they were ashamed of me.
As a result of this, and my ongoing undiagnosed mental health, I was a horrendous teenager. I was caught smoking, self-harming, drinking, drugs, making myself sick… the list goes on. Instead of addressing these issues my parents pretended they weren’t happening. They would scream at me behind closed doors, yet never get actual help for me. This made me feel a lot of shame. I felt I was failing as a daughter and sister. Even my family didn’t like me. They said as much.
I am now the mother of 2 teenagers and I would NEVER ignore this kind of behaviour. I would never trivialise my children’s problems or pretend they aren’t happening. I would be open and support them as best as I could and get them professional help when needed.
Needless to say I left home at 16.
I then had a somewhat strained relationship with my parents until I had my eldest children, but after that my Mother and I grew closer. She got to know and understand the real me. She could sense when I struggled and offer me help. She would often praise me for bringing up 2 children on my own without any paternal input. We grew close and genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. She learnt about my condition and how to help me. We still never talked about the past.
My Mum passed away 6 years ago age 58. I felt the loss and hole that she’d left in our lives immensely. I didn’t think at one point we’d recover. But we did. We chose survival.
Meanwhile, my Father’s recovery was more complex. He became an angry and bitter man. It wasn’t enjoyable spending time with him, and he showed no interest in our lives. I still tried and would invite him over, listen to his latest rant etc, make him dinner, host Christmas. He never asked about me or the children, he never wanted to know if we were struggling. He felt it was his grief and his alone. I didn’t feel I could burden him with my own, I didn’t feel I could tell him how my anxiety had been triggered as he hated my mental health being brought up. He made it clear I had brought shame on the family my whole life. Well I was about to do it all over again.
Late 2017 I found myself pregnant and on my own. Again. I had ended the relationship before I found out I was pregnant (unbeknown to me he had a lifelong drug habit – I ended things when it all came out) so I was happy to be a single parent again. I am quite hardened with relationships of the heart. I was excited as I had yearned for another child for years. I felt so blessed to be starting this new chapter of my life.
I messaged my brother, sister and Father letting them know my happy news. My Father’s reply was as follows ‘I will not support this at all. All your children will end up in care and the older two’s education will suffer.’ And that was that. That is the last proper contact I had with my father and siblings.
As you can imagine, this triggered low and manic episodes
I felt terrified. I was the only family my soon to be 3 children had. How would I cope? I was a living nightmare and train crash. I failed at everything. How would I ever cope and survive on my own? My Father’s words would echo daily around my head All your children will end up in care. All your children will end up in care. All your children will end up in care.
I felt a lot of anger, bitterness and hatred towards my Father. He was supposed to love me unconditionally. He had been in my life for 36 years; how could he just leave it? If he couldn’t love me, I knew I was damaged beyond repair and that no one would ever want me. I felt so angry at how much his actions had hurt my older children, and how when my baby was born he failed to even acknowledge it. My hatred grew and grew. Until I realised I was getting more and more bitter. I reminded myself of someone. Him.
That realisation shocked me into making changes. Yes, I had my inner voice still going on at me, but I was able to over ride it. I had 3 happy, beautiful and intelligent children. How could that be a fluke? I wasn’t failing as much as I thought after all!
Once I acknowledged this, I started to revisit my childhood and how I’d been made to feel just for simply being me. I had been made to feel ashamed of who I was by the people who should have loved me the most. I had let people treat my badly (all my romantic relationships have involved me putting in the most effort, time and money) and I had always had friendships and relationships where I would do the lion’s share of everything. In friendships, I would constantly babysit for friends or run their children around, but if I asked for assistance back they wouldn’t help. I had unwittingly been choosing relationships with people that were unsuitable as I thought that by doing things for them they might like me. Obviously it had the opposite effect as when they finally left my life it reinforced my deep rooted theory that nobody liked me. My self esteem was rock bottom and I had no self worth. I could finally link this into how I had felt growing up. I was allowing everyone to treat me the way my family had.
When you hit rock bottom, there’s only one way to go. And that’s up. I was a single Mummy to 3 amazing children living in a new town. I would be making new friendships and it was up to me how people viewed me. I chose to fight. I made a conscious decision to lose the feeling of shame I had carried around for years like an albatross and establish effective friendships with people who could actually like me and want to spend time with me.
It sounds silly what a revelation this was; I was finally free!
When you change the way you view yourself, it changes the way that other people view you. It is not an easy process. Far from it. I knew I had to do it for my children. How could I teach them about self love if I wasn’t preaching it?
It has been a long and hard road. Everyone here knows me as Izzy with 3 children. They know my mother is dead and that I have no family contact. What they don’t know when I’m giving a bit of back story that it is a battle I’m still fighting. The rejection still reduces me to tears, and I don’t think it will ever stop hurting. They don’t realise that each and every day I am building myself up to become someone to be proud of. They don’t know the panic attacks I would have before attending new groups or that I would go home and analyze my behaviour and chastise myself for talking too much, interrupting or laughing too loudly. All classic anxiety symptoms that come across as carefree and confident.
They don’t know how lonely my life is. The daytime is full of playdates and work. But the evenings can be arduous. Loneliness is a very dangerous thing for an overthinker. The boredom can kick in and I will tell myself I’m lonely because no one likes me. Maybe that will always be the case. I have no one to share my children’s milestones with. I have no one to love my children with me.
What won’t always be there is the shame I once felt. I am now proud to say I HAVE BIPOLAR. I live with mental health, yes it affects my personality, but that’s me and who I am. I wouldn’t know who I was without it. Yes, this is a positive post. I’m also not naive enough to think that I am now cured. I know these feelings will come to the forefront a lot, but I don’t have a constant in my life reinforcing them.
I feel liberated, I feel I have the chance to start life all over again. A life without feeling constant rejection and shame and being an embarrassment to others. No, not everyone will like me. But that’s life.
So thank you Dad, thank you for forcing me to free myself of the feelings you made me feel about myself for so long. Thank you for making me see it’s not my fault I am like this. But let me be very clear. I will never forgive you. Not any of you. I will never allow you to be a part of my life. I will never allow you to hurt me again nor my children.